Amish Paradise

Trip Start Apr 01, 1979
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Sunday, April 10, 2005

I once got into a long discussion with a professor, and perhaps some fellow collegians, about the local Mennonite community in our area. I saw these people, dressed in their church-mandated garb shopping at the local Wal-Mart, and I had many questions regarding their existence in our area and elsewhere. First among those questions, "are they allowed to shop at Wal-Mart?" Truly I don't even like to shop at Wal-Mart because of what it represents in this overburdened, bloodless little town that I lived in, so why should they? Apparently, not all Mennonites are the same, at least according to my professor. And for that matter, neither are all Amish or Brethren, or any other number of likewise peoples who fled the persecution of their European roots due to their Anabaptist ways and found sanctuary in the U.S. But there the conversation stopped, and I was left with only one thing left to say. "When I next see them," I began, "I'll go up and ask the simple question 'What's with you?'" My professor thought this rude, but she didn't know that the real question I wanted to ask was, "Why you weird!?" Of course, the answer will never really justify the question, so I never did pose it.

So anyway, the point of that little aside is this, I went up to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and tried to see for my self why those old Amish are so weird. I went with some family and my lady, and we all came back with one very simple answer, but I'll get to that in a bit. First, let me tell the story...

Lancaster County PA isn't really that far from DC. Its only about a 2.5 hour drive, and I took it in style, blazing a path up the interstate in my funky Volvo. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, how can one drive a Volvo and be in style at the same time. Well let me tell you this, it ain't easy, but when you got it like I do, it works. So we stopped off at a local, very fashionable eatery on the way called the Cracker Barrel. Now you may have heard of this grand old restaurant, all kitsch and no substance, but let me tell you this, at least it isn't Waffle House. Our server had all her teeth, and the food came out in a reasonable time, and I don't even think it was made by some ex-convict with an eye patch like you can expect at that other southern style restaurant. I tell you, Cracker Barrel is okay in my books, even if only in comparison to everybody's favorite road side midnight food station, WF. Anyway, back on course, we finally strolled into Lancaster just before noon, and met up with a couple of my family members shortly thereafter. Apparently, having been there nearly 18 hours, they had already given up on the Amish-looking and gone straight into the other activity in town, outlet-shopping. Let me be up front about this, I hate outlet shopping, and I really don't get it. These 'outlet' stores are always found around tourist attractions, leeching off the free-spending multitudes like there was no tomorrow. Of course, I don't blame the stores, but I don't understand for one second while someone would go on vacation to shop. It must be relaxing to some people, but to me it's just wasteful. I can shop at home, and if my lady had her way, I would have to for a minimum of 5-7 hours every weekend.

So finally I saw my first horse and buggy, an Amish staple, around 3 pm that afternoon. I peered shamelessly into the buggy, hoping to catch a glimpse of some bearded dude and some funny looking kid (okay I'm insensitive, so shoot me. And if you didn't know that already, have you been paying attention?), but in the end all I see is an Oklahoma State t-shirt, a fat woman with a camera, and some scraggly kid looking bored. So apparently the tourists can get a good old fashioned horse and buggy ride too. The next buggy I see is more of the same, and the next as well. By the time I see a fourth buggy, I'm convinced that these Amish don't actually ride in them, saving them instead for the tourists. I was wrong. In fact, besides the buggy I rode in (twice), I never did see another one with tourists, but I saw all kinds of weird ones (my slang for Amish). Anyway, skipping the rant, let me educate for a moment. First, there are all kinds of weird ones around that area, and they aren't all Amish. There is Old Order Amish (horse and buggy), New Order Amish (weird still, but they have cars and tractors), Old Order Mennonites (basically the same as the O.O.A.) and New Order Mennonites (yes, basically the same as N.O.A.). Finally, there is a group that call themselves Brethren (who look like the weird ones, but seem to have none of the restrictions). On religious doctrine I know nothing, so I couldn't tell them at all apart, so I'll simplify by calling those who drive in the buggy Amish, and those who don't Fake Amish. Fair enough? No, well who cares anyway?

The highlights of the weekend were three-fold (actually four-fold, but I already had moved it up from an original two-fold and I thought that I shouldn't get greedy). The first highlight was the horse and buggy rides. I don't know why, but they're just plain fun. It's a neat way to step into the weird ones life for a brief moment. If I never had anywhere to go, it wouldn't be such a bad way to get around. But man would that drive up from DC have been tough it I had to ride in a buggy with a horse pulling me. 2.5 hours would become 2.5 days. So the horse and buggy rides were nice. Nice enough that we did it twice. The first one had some cranky driver that kept on telling me the Amish were all about making the almighty buck. I expected her to also say that they were poisoning the wells, stealing children, and that they started the Black Death, but she refrained. She did however present some compelling evidence. When we actually went on the ride they took us through a working Amish farm, with really weird ones right there on the property. It seemed a bit fake, and we asked why they would allow such a thing. She showed us that when we go through, they have a stand where they sell pretzels, cookies and lemonade, along with painted horseshoes. I confess to two things. First, it did seem to me that they were about the buck in that moment, but the cookies and pretzels (rold gold with special seasoning by the way) were pretty cheap. Second, I got both pretzels and cookies on both rides. I don't much care for the buck, but I like the snacks. The next highlight was these family style restaurants. I won't go into detail, but the food was good, there was plenty, and even if it was plain, it was also kind of fancy. We ate at two of these. They were called the Good and Plenty and the Plain and Fancy by the by. The third highlight was a trip to the goofy golf place. I love me some goofy golf. And finally, the fourth of the three-fold highlights was my chance to actually talk to some weird ones, well at least the offspring of some weird ones.

At a little root beer and home made goods stand in front of this one Amish house (all about the buck), on my second visit (all about the snacks), I talked with these little weird kids who were watching the place for a few minutes. One of them was apparently enjoying the inventory, as he chugged down on some home made root beer. I gave him a little bit of a hard time about this and talked with his older brother a bit. Now I know these kids live on a farm, but man were they dirty. I mean white trash dirty. But I don't think they were white trash dumb. They talk very well, and since some of them know the better part of three languages (English, German, Pennsylvania Dutch), I think that's pretty impressive. Too bad they only go to school up to 8th grade or who knows? We might one day see an Amish president. Okay not really, but we probably all though we'd never have a stupid president and look how that turned out. Anyway, that was the top-drawer highlight. These little weird ones were kind of shy, very dirty, but seemingly pretty smart, although despite my quips they didn't laugh at my English jokes. Here's to you Amish kids, may you never witness a murder and have to be protected by a booby-looking Harrison Ford who falls in love with your mama, no matter how well he builds a bird house.

And now to my gripe, which I must add, always accompanies anything I write. And if you don't like it, then you don't have to read it. Like Howard Stern, even though I'm available out there on the free waves, if you don't like me, you can always just turn me off. Anyway, I think the Amish are cheaters. And I only say that with a great admiration for what I believed to be their way of life. Let me explain. As many do, I thought the Amish were against the electricity thing, and used only common implements and other likewise basic and old stuff to live their life, but this really isn't the case. They use electric devices in many different ways, including using electric mixers in their kitchen made by Sunbeam! Yes, these mixers have special pneumatic power supplies that allow for the Amish to use them without an actual outlet. They also use propane to run their fridges and hot water heaters. They use solar power for their rechargeable batteries, and often pay others to drive trucks, tractors, and other things for them. So while they may seem to be skirting around their religious rules, I think its kind of a cop out. I think its all or nothing, and trying to adapt is fair enough, but trying to adapt by becoming modern, yet professing simplicity, seems a bit hypocritical. But hey, I wouldn't want to mix my food by hand either. And you can only churn so much butter.

Anyway, as Weird Al once sang, they've been spending most their lives living in the Amish paradise. Let them have their way, however weird, but I don't have to like it. And to answer the question posed at the beginning, Why are they weird anyway? The answer we all came to is that we have no freaking idea. Ain't life grand?
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